Hot Springs: Respite for the brain-weary and infirm

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

Blizzards, cold weather, and short days call for vacations to warmer climes.

Fortunately, our collection contains a large number of items relating to balneology, the science of baths and bathing, including pamphlets from hot spring resorts across the United States from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Even if we can’t really get away, we can take a virtual trip to a warm soak thanks to these guides.

Some of the content in these pamphlets has not aged well, due to both medical progress (no one today could claim that a hot spring could cure syphilis) and political correctness (Hunter’s Hot Springs’ view of Native Americans is appalling by today’s standards). But they offer a unique look into how these destinations marketed themselves using the medical claims and social mores of the era.

Arrowhead Hot Springs

“Here the brain-weary may forget a busy world, the seeker after pleasure find it unalloyed with vice, and all, with their loved ones, secure under the watchful care extended to guests night and day.”

Cutter’s Guide to the Hot Springs of Arkansas

“The following diseases are successfully treated, the failure to cure being the exception; where a perfect cure is not effected, a benefit is experienced by all where the waters are properly used: Rheumatism, Gout, Scrofula, Paralysis, Neuralgia, Ozena, Catarrh, Sore Throat, Syphilis—acquired or hereditary, in its different forms—Asthma, Gravel, Diseases of the Kidney and Bladder, Eczema, Psoriasis, Uticaria, Impetigo, Prurigo, Rupia, Chronic Ulcers, Glandular Enlargements, Ring Worm, Migraine or Sick Headache, Enlarged Tonsils, Menstruation Troubles, and Sterility. This is a long list, yet the truth is not half told. Not a week passes but some remarkable cures are effected where all hope of recovery had been abandoned before a visit to these Springs had been concluded upon.”

Cincinnati Sulpho-Saline Springs and Bath House

“Cincinnati is in fact positively the only place where mineral water, fresh from mother earth, can be employed for the restoration of the sick to health and vigor, where all the advantages of a great city can be enjoyed at the same time.”

Hunter’s Hot Springs at Springdale, Montana

“The fact that the Indian of untutored mind should be able to appreciate the value of thermal springs may strike us at first as strange and inconsistent. But the Indian, and particularly the Indian of the wilds unchanged by contact with the whites, lived very close to Nature and learned many of her secrets.”

El Paso de Robles Hot and Cold Sulpher Springs

“On the skin of an average-sized adult there are about seven million pores—seven million little sewer outlets—which are discharging vents of twenty-eight miles of connecting tubes or pipes—through which a large proportion of effete, worn-out débris of the human body, and noxious, poisonous substances, as I have just proved, are cast out from the animal economy . . . The large quantity of bi-carbonate of soda and of sulphur in these waters washes out all these obstructions from the mouths of these millions of little sewers, and after a few days’ bathing leaves the skin almost as smooth as satin.”

Which vacation destination would you pick?

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